No Easy Streets in Idaho

Timothy O'Donnell Uncategorized


I just finished a two-week racing block in Idaho with Ironman 70.3 Boise and Ironman Coeur d’Alene (CdA), the great state of Idaho made sure to make it a challenge! While I don’t feel either race was my best showing I was still able to walk away from this block with two podiums, a 3rd in Boise and 2nd in CdA. Podiums are great but what I really took away from the Gem State was great lessons in toughness, both physical and mental.

I came into the Boise 70.3 with great form. After some successful results early in the season I was able to get in a great Ironman training block before the 70.3 to prepare for CdA two weeks later. I arrived to a beautiful day in Boise, mid-70s and sunshine. While the swim water was cold (57 degrees) the rest of the course was beautiful with a challenging bike and festive run course located downtown. It seemed to have the making of the perfect race, that is before the not so perfect storm approached.

Boise has the unique quality of a noon start time, but that didn’t help the weather in warming up. We arrived at the race site to rain and 42 degree weather, with the strong winds the wind chill was down to the low 30s! I had never been in worse race conditions and had no idea what the day would bring. As we prepared our gear the race director made an announcement, the 50 mph winds on the backside of the course had caused them to cut the bike course short. The 56-mile bike was now a 15-mile bike straight into town from the reservoir. Ironman 70.3 Boise was now the sport’s first Ironman 29.3! With the short bike and severe cold several of the athletes including eventual winner Matty Reed decided to ride in their wetsuits. Before the start Matty came up to me and said, “TO I am going to ride in my wetsuit” I starred at him for a little and said “Uh, ok.” In my mind I thought the cold had already gotten to him and he had lost it! In hindsight it was a brilliant move.

The race started in the cold water of the reservoir and while it was tough to get the muscles going I was able to get into a two-man breakaway out of the swim and with a fast transition I quickly gapped the entire field. While I put on a vest in transition I didn’t zip up, I don’t know why. I think the cold had already gotten to me. I bombed down the 1.5 mile decent out of the reservoir and my core temperature continued to drop. A little fuzzy in the head and unable to feel my hands things quickly turned bad for me. I felt a motto coming up on me and I turned around to take a look, as I looked back ahead of me I saw I was riding head on into a giant cone. Seriously, this cone was bigger than Rinny. In my state as a human popsicle I had no reaction, I just ran right into it going somewhere in the 25-30 mph range. Classic TO. As I flipped over my Argon the only thing I could think was “great, there goes IM CdA and that means no Kona.” BUT I am sort of a professional bike crasher, I have some experience! I was able to roll out of the crash in pretty good shape but my ISM saddle wasn’t so lucky…it definitely took one for the team. I don’t know why but when you crash the reaction is to just get up and keep riding. By the time I got back onto the bike I had fallen to third position and with a saddle that was now aligned vertically and not horizontally I wasn’t going to set any bike course records. I rode conservatively, not knowing if I had done any other serious damage to my bike or body but was still able to hit transition in third. I’m glad it was only a 15-mile bike as I was beginning to convulse in the cold. It turns out being “Ironman fit” is not a good thing in those conditions!

I plugged along on the run and was able to stay strong to hold onto the podium. While I feel I lost the chance to fight for a win in Boise I am proud that I kept charging after the crash. I wasn’t going to let a little rode rash and a broken seat stop me from fighting! I left Boise in one piece and still on track for IM CdA, so all in all the day turned out ok!

I knew CdA had the possibility to be just as cold as Boise so in the two weeks in between races I made sure to keep my eye on the weather. If it was going to be Boise 2.0 then I was ready to fly to Europe and do one of their Ironmans. I don’t mind a little suffering but I’m not masochistic. Luckily the reports all sounded good, mid 70s on race day. It took a few days for my hip and neck to start to feel better after the crash and by the end of week my body felt ok. Unfortunately as my body felt better my energy dropped. I realized that a week out from CdA I had come down with the same bug that kept Rinny out of Eagleman the week prior. I spent the Monday before the race in bed, not able to do much else. I was very nervous, Ironman is a long day when you are 100% and being less than that could make it a REALLY long day. I switched my flight from Wednesday to Thursday for another night in my own bed to recover. The bug spread to my sinuses, which then lead to a double ear infection too. With the fear of ruining my GI system before the race I made the decision to avoid the antibiotics I needed prior the race. While my head felt like it was going to explode the entire week I would rather race in pain the risk a severe GI breakdown in the race.

I decided to stick to my normal race plan and go for it. If I didn’t have it on the day then I just didn’t have it. With a solid swim I exited the water with Bryan Rhodes over two minutes ahead of the field. I got out to the lead and started setting the pace. Unfortunately when I mounted my bike out of T1 my seat post slipped and left me riding a few cm low. I continued to ride strong and while Chris Lieto was gaining on me I began to open up the gap on the main pack. About 25 miles into the ride I was able to flag down the technical support and get my seat raised. I tried to hang with Chris as he passed but as we wrapped up the first lap he had put a minute into me. The good news was I had opened up the lead on the main field to five minutes.

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I noticed it seemed to be getting colder on the bike and as we entered town to start lap two I saw the temperature had dropped to the mid-50s. I don’t know if it was the cold or just me not having it on the day but as I started the second lap I noticed my watts began to plummet. I just couldn’t get any power into the pedals. I caught Chris as we headed back out of town but the main group was closing fast. Before I knew it Viktor and some others were right behind me. I’m still asking myself “where did that five minute lead go?” I had nothing in me and when they caught me I was quickly left in their wake. I kept plugging along just trying to hold off the others and (slowly) made my way back into town to T2.

As I hit T2 I was in 4th place and over six minutes off of Viktor. I attempted to execute my race plan on the bike and failed. As I ran into the changing tent I knew I needed to be smart and adapt my plan. The competitor in me wanted to bust out of the gate and try to close the gap to Viktor, try to make it a race. However I was way off my biking form and trying to crush the run could’ve put me in a bad place. Wrapping up my Kona spot was the ultimate objective for the day and I decided to run strong but smart. Within five miles of the run I had pulled myself into second place matching pace with Viktor up the road. I kept the pace up and was able to take hold of my position and finish with a hard fought second place.

Racing isn’t just about the level of fitness you achieve in preparation for the race, its about what your bring to the table on race day. While I don’t think CdA was my best performance I raced to what I had on the day. Even though I didn’t set records or reach new levels in my Ironman career I know what I had on the day was left on the course and I’m proud of the effort. My races at Boise and CdA for different reasons weren’t the perfect days. The challenges presented to me in both events tested my willingness to dig deep and fight. I’d like to think I passed those tests. Like I said at earlier, there are no Easy Streets in Idaho…and I love it!